Nebraska-Omaha is near the top of the WCHA standings and St. Cloud State is fighting to stay out of the cellar. Those are the biggest surprises, and meanwhile, North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth are right where everyone thought they would be.
College hockey is at the midpoint of its season and the WCHA has four teams in the nation’s top eight teams and two in the top four.
The consensus WCHA favorite, UND, (13-5-2) is the top WCHA team in the USCHO.com D-I Poll and sits in first place in the league standings with 22 points after a pair of sweeps against SCSU and Minnesota State.
Who would’ve thought Matt Frattin, the nation’s leading goal scorer, would have 17 goals at the break when the Sioux’s goals leader when the 2009-10 season ended was Jason Gregoire with 20.
Frattin, who scored 11 goals a year ago, has 25 points, which matches his personal best for points in a season he set as a sophomore.
Frattin has the ability to create his own chances to make quality shots. He beat MSU goaltender Phil Cook glove side far post on Friday and danced his way around two Mavericks defenders on his way to a goal Sunday.
Frattin is on a five-game goal-scoring streak.
Aaron Dell has been a surprise in the crease after UND’s original No. 1 goalie, Brad Eidsness, was benched after just five games because of his nightmare of a start to the season (4.12 GAA, .805 SV%).
The sophomore Dell is 12-4-1 with a 2.22 goals against average and .904 save percentage.
The scary thing is UND’s record now and the schedule that lies ahead for the Sioux. UND faces only two teams in the current top 10-ranked teams on the schedule until the Final Five rolls around.
The Sioux are at No. 4 UMD in a single game Dec. 30 and host No. 8 UNO Jan. 21-22.
The Sioux end the season with four teams (Alaska-Anchorage, SCSU, Bemidji State and Michigan Tech) in the league’s bottom five. That schedule and the fact that UND is 60-22-14 once WCHA play starts again after the New Year under Dave Hakstol are why the Sioux will win the WCHA this season.
UMD is the only WCHA team to earn a No. 1 ranking, which it held for two weeks before it split with Denver, Dec. 3-4.
The Bulldogs are near the top of the rankings and the WCHA standings because of the guys who were expected to produce; guys like Jack Connolly (8-17–25), Justin Fontaine (9-14–23) and Mike Connolly (11-12–23).
UMD has the best offense in the WCHA (3.72 goals per game) and the fifth-best nationally.
Unranked to start the season, UNO started the season 9-1-1, shooting up the polls to No. 4 by the seventh week of the season. Mavericks coach Dean Blais said before the season his team “could be in for a tough start” with 11 freshmen on the roster.
Another thing that worried Blais was the 14 players UNO lost from the 2009-10 season. The key is the returnees are another year older.
Sophomore Terry Broadhurst is off to a good start, tying the team-lead in points with 18, otherwise its four upperclassmen in the top five in UNO’s scoring.
The Mavericks also thrive on their balance. Notice how no player on the roster has more than 18 points, yet UNO is sixth in the nation in scoring (3.69 GPG).
SCSU also returned plenty of key players but have had opposite results.
The Huskies entered the season ranked fourth and were projected to finish in the top three of the WCHA. Why not? SCSU returned 12 of its 14 top scorers from last year and that’s why, after the slow start, I said not to write the Huskies off too soon.
SCSU has started slow in each of the five seasons under Bob Motzko but have made the Final Five four times and the national tournament three times.
But it hasn’t panned out the way the Huskies hoped or as most people predicted. It exposes the size of the void left by Ryan Lasch and Garrett Raboin, in points and their leadership.
Drew Le Blanc leads the Huskies with 18 points while Garrett Roe (who scored 49 points last season) and Nick Jensen are the only other players to crack double digits in points.
At this point, with only seven points, St. Cloud State has dug a hole it can’t climb out of. Then again, that’s why they play the games, and there’s still a lot more to be played.